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Friday, August 17, 2007

Bad Christians?


Jennifer F. has a very thought-provoking post on generic "Christian Evangelization". (note: "generic" is my term). While I can't relate exactly to her experience, it did make me think of non-Catholic Christians I knew as a child.

We lived in a rural riverside neighborhood in Illinois, populated by mainly Protestants or non-religious nieghbors. I remember one day, near Christmas, when Mom had to work and had no one to watch us. I don't remember if my older brother was there, playing with their son Randy, or if he had something else to do. But in any case, I was packed up and dropped off at the neighbor's house, where I spent time in my regular pursuits.

I knew they were a Christian family; they talked about Jesus a lot, their house was decorated for Christmas, and as ours was, too, I saw no difference between what they believed and what we believed as Catholics. I knew their religion was different; but I was too young to understand what that meant.

Because I was always an artist, and I was a shy child, I spent my time that day drawing and coloring Christmas scenes. Really OBVIOUS Christmas scenes; Mary, Jesus, and Joseph in various Nativity poses. Jesus in the manger with cows and lambs, with Mary and Joseph kneeling behind him. Mary holding Jesus while Joseph stood watch. The Christmas Star high above, shining down upon the scene. Angels playing trumpets and singing. Oh, yes, I knew what Christmas was about. My pictures didn't have many Christmas trees...it was all about the birth of Christ. Mom did a good job.

And in normal shy-little-girl style, I showed the neighbor my various artistic offerings throughout the day, saying nothing, just "showing". I remember that her daughter asked me who the figures were, and when I didn't answer, she pointed to each character and named them. I agreed; she'd gotten it right. My drawings were never vague scribbles; I very painstakingly drew exactly what I wanted, and they resembled very specifically what they actually were. I speak to this very truly; there was no ambivalence in my work; my pictures were of the Nativity and the birth of Christ Jesus.

Somewhere near the end of the day, the neighbor stood at the sink, washing dishes while I showed her my drawings, which she admired appopriately and seemed to understnd what they were.

And then she threw me for a loop when she asked, "Do you know what Christmas is about?"

I was completely confused. Had I not been DISPLAYING to her ALL DAY LONG my understanding of Christmas? Was it not obvious?

I didn't know what to say, so I only stared at her. Her question made me second-guess myself. Was Christmas actually about something else? I'd been showing her the birth of Jesus all day. I'd been showing her angels proclaiming the birth of the Savior, I'd been showing her Mary and Joseph with little baby Jesus in the manger. As far as I knew, that was Christmas.

And she'd identified all the people in my drawings correctly. How could she ask me if I understood what Christmas was about...unless what I was drawing was a different holiday?

She was a very forceful woman, with a strong voice, a direct gaze, and was as fundamentalist as they come. Of course I didn't understand that was her belief or what it meant, but this Christian lady, upon recieving no response but mute surprise at her question began to belittle me for not knowing what Christmas was about.

"This kid don't know NUTHIN'!" She yelled out to her family. "She don't know who Je-sus is!"

Then she proceeded to tell me that Jesus was the Son of God, born to bring salvation to the world.

I looked at the drawings in my hands. That's what I'd been drawing all day. How could she not understand that I knew what Christmas was about?

Part of what inspired my drawings was the lack of Nativity scenes in her house. I had set out to help her with that poverty in her Christmas decorations, and instead, she had belittled my understanding of Christmas.

From that day on, I knew that there was a difference in what we as Catholics believe versus what "they" as Protestants believe, and I cannot help my knee-jerk reaction towards many Protestants I meet. To this day, I can still hear that woman crying out, "This kid don't know NUTHIN'!", that same thing being told to my embarassed mother, even as she looked through my drawings of the day, trying to protest that I did indeed know what Christmas was about and who Jesus was.

I will never understand why that woman did what she did. I will never understand how she could identify exactly what my pictures portrayed and still attack me by way of suggesting I did not know what it was about.

I do believe there was a bit of anti-Catholicism in her religion; she suffered from a belief that a Catholic child could only mimic but not understand. In truth, I think I could have taught her things had I had the voice to truly repeat all I had been taught by my Mother.

I've had other Christian faiths call my faith into question; likewise, I've met Protestants who have helped me to reinforce my Catholic faith and have a deep respect for our beliefs.

As an adult, more often than not I meet people of varying faiths, and we have a commmon understanding; we are all trying to reach God. We all agree there are people who don't know anything about the religion they profess. We all agree that we love the Lord, although we approach Him differently. We all agree we can be friends, we can talk about our agreements and disagreements, remembering we are on our own paths, we are all doing our best, and belittling others is NOT the way to win converts.

It can be necessary to speak harshly, to speak strongly, and to call ADULTS out on the carpet, for adults know how to speak for themselves. But we must be especially careful as to how we address and respond to children. And in reality, some adults are naught but spiritual children; they must be nutured.

God give us the grace and the wisdom to know the difference and respond properly, that we may build up the kingdome and fan the flames, rather than quench them from our own overly zealous righteousness. The former is to be desired...the latter is a sin we will answer for when we reach eternity.

7 comments:

Angela Messenger said...

First of all....I love your cheezburger cat! LOL!

Great post Adoro. You nailed it! You also reminded me of a pastel I did in Grade one. I was totally unchurched except for 2 things. A crucifix hung over my parents bedroom doorway and we recited the "Lord's Prayer" (not the Catholic "Our Father") every morning before class began (this was the last year it was allowed in public school, it was 1970/71) Yet, even in my ignorance I drew Mary's robes in sky blue. I can't remember if there were wise men but even as a 6 year old Mama Mary was a big part of my life! It took a lot longer to get to know her Son!

The faith of children is so beautiful. I am sorry that lady was ignorant. I suppose you could say it was your first day as an apologist!

UltraCrepidarian said...

Yes, she was at least subconsciously anti-Catholic. I think the even stranger and more horrible thing is her not knowing how to relax, and be friendly enough to you that you would warm up to her. You sound like you were nervous the whole time. This launching into a "Jee-sus" spiel with a little kid, is ironically as far from relationship evangelism as it gets.

The focus in evangelicalism is on a "Personal relationship with our lord and saviour Jesus Christ", and though this exact phrase appears nowhere in the Bible, evangelical Christians are 100% certain that this is the center and rock upon which the Gospel, and one's own Assurance of Salvation (another concept that isn't in the Bible) rests.

I grew up feeling I should have both, but that I had neither. I grew up feeling I had no such thing, even though I had "asked Jesus into my heart", the feeling always went away. I got saved again and again. Not unlike the way I keep sinnng, and going back to confession, again and again. But there is something debilitating about this sense of losing your salvation, which is doubly bad, because in fact you suspect you never were, and never will be, whatever a real Christian is.

However weird it is to enocunter these people, it's even weirder being one, trust me.

I thank God he brought me home to the Church. I may not be perfect, I struggle, but it's not a debilitating struggle, and the Grace of God, the forgiveness of God, and his presence in the Blessed Sacrament are gifts all Christians should have. They are comforts, helps, and encouragements, and sources of the Grace we need to live!

W

Adoro te Devote said...

angela ~ some apologist! A mute one!

Ultra ~ yes, I was nervous the whole time...that was normal for me because I was so painfully shy.

Anonymous said...

Adoro, your art spoke for you.

Angela M.

Hidden One said...

"The focus in evangelicalism is on a "Personal relationship with our lord and saviour Jesus Christ", and though this exact phrase appears nowhere in the Bible, evangelical Christians are 100% certain that this is the center and rock upon which the Gospel, and one's own Assurance of Salvation (another concept that isn't in the Bible) rests.

I grew up feeling I should have both, but that I had neither. I grew up feeling I had no such thing, even though I had "asked Jesus into my heart", the feeling always went away. I got saved again and again. Not unlike the way I keep sinnng, and going back to confession, again and again. But there is something debilitating about this sense of losing your salvation, which is doubly bad, because in fact you suspect you never were, and never will be, whatever a real Christian is.

However weird it is to enocunter these people, it's even weirder being one, trust me."

Having been raised a Protestant household of the Calvinist (OSAS) variety, I agree with absolutely everything I just quoted from Warren's comment completely.

angelmeg said...

When I was very young and realized that there were actually other churches that weren't Catholic, but professed to be "Christian" (I was maybe 5 or 6 at the time) I asked my dad what the difference was between their beliefs and ours.


He proceeded to take me to the church and point out the Tabernacle and say, "Jesus loves every church that believes in Him, but He lives in the Catholic church right there in the tablernacle.

I loved going to Adoration with my father. He talked with Jesus at those times as though he were talking to a dear friend.

I suppose so do I.

Like father like daughter.

Michelle said...

Funny: at our last home, we had nice, Christian neighbors who displayed a small nativity set in their front yard year round. My husband and I laughed, secretly, because ONE) had I put a statue of Mary in my front yard, they probably would have thought I worshipped idols (even though they had a statue of Mary in their nativity set) and TWO) they probably considered my crucifixes to be idolatry as well, even though they had an image of Christ in the manger.

I had another Christian neighbor who gave me an inexpensively framed Madonna and Child as a Christmas present - and kept a similarly framed copy for herself (which she kept out year-round, not just at Christmas time). She was completely drawn to the beauty of the Madonna, and I privately prayed to the Blessed Mother to continue to draw her to the Truth.

There are times I feel that my sole purpose in life is to convince Protestants that Catholics are not going to hell (we CAN be saved...and we don't have to renounce our religion either!).

But frequently, too, I find I have more in common with these zealots than I do with the average Catholics I know who use birth-control, go to Mass on Sundays (maybe) and completely segregate the rest of their life from that hour in church, and who have not the least concept of the basic tenants of the Faith (and no desire to learn them either).

BUT...my husband really blew his stack when one family asked us for prayers of support and, if possible, monetary donations to help them take a missionary trip to Honduras to bring Christ to the locals. Honduras is unabashedly (like 97%) Catholic. The state religion is Catholicism and Catholic schools receive federal funding. I seriously considered flying the Vatican flag out front, but I don't think they would have gotten it.